You really can’t ask for a better setting for a music festival than the stately oaks of City Park. The Voodoo Music Experience continues to develop into a signature fall event in New Orleans and a destination event for music lovers of all stripes. Here’s a look at my highlights.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon a little ahead of schedule we managed to catch about half of the Honey Island Swamp Band on the Bud Light/WWOZ stage. The band was on fire, hitting on all cylinders with Jimmy Carpenter on tenor saxophone and Derek Houston on baritone. For the last song, Ivan Neville practically pushed keyboardist Trevor Brooks off the bench, but he didn’t seem to mind one bit, having one of premier organ players in the city sitting in.
Neville was around because he was scheduled to back Ani DiFranco on her set along with drummer Herlin Riley. While they changed over the stage set, we headed a short distance away to the Bingo! Parlor stage for the Japanese cartoon rock band Peelander Z.
I had heard that they put on an entertaining show, but these guys were downright hilarious jumping around in their super hero costumes. At one point, the singer just started screaming, “What do you want to eat? Taco, Taco, Taco!” before launching into a frenetic surf guitar lick. It was gut-bustingly funny, and everyone around us was doubled over.
Though the distance was physically close, the psychic space was light years away back at the WWOZ stage. DiFranco attracts one of the most fervent audiences, and they waited and whispered in hushed tones while her guitar tech tuned her many instruments. When the folk punk goddess appeared, the crowd let out a howl that was part release, as if the anticipation was more than they could take.
With Neville and Riley, two New Orleans musical icons playing sympathetic support, and her songs rearranged, the band was tentative at first. But after several songs, that New Orleans groove kicked in, and band and crowd alike were all smiles for the rest of the set.
The big highlight on all the local music lovers’ minds was the rare reunion of the original Meters. The funky foursome—Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Zigaboo Modeliste—did not disappoint the crowd, which buzzed with much anticipation before they took the stage. Their good time vibe was evident from the first notes. Porter stalked the stage with his bass slung across his chest; Neville—Poppa Funk—percolated some of the most intense organ grooves while Modeliste comped his trademark drum fills. Leo was Leo—letting go on some incendiary solos and basking in the audience’s approval. Art’s youngest brother, Cyril, who was in the band at the end of their original run in the 1970s, also graced the stage with his powerful vocals.
One of the great things about the set up at the Voodoo Fest is the ease of movement between stages. In between various acts, I got to see bits of sets by the legendary Ray Davies as well as newcomers Portugal, the Man and Fitz and the Tantrums. The organizers also are on the ball enough to tweak what’s not working in mid-fest. The port-a-lets, which were set up pod style and confused everyone on Friday, were rearranged in straight lines when we returned.